Brit Taylor’s new album, Kentucky Blue, isn’t a concept album. But that doesn’t mean things can’t get a little meta. In the background of our Zoom call, by the piano in her Tennessee home, lays a little dog called... Blue. “We got him at thanksgiving roaming round at my papaw’s house” she explains. “I said to my papaw, ‘just feed him and if he’s there when I come, I’ll take him home with me’. He’s my little Kentucky Blue dog”.
Kentucky Blue is Brit’s second album, following the critically acclaimed Real Me in big, bad 2020; an album for the times in its darkness, despair and self-reflection amongst seismic life changes. If Brit sounds more cheerful about the world on Kentucky Blue, it’s because she is. How did she manage it? “You just adopt more puppies”, she quips, before elaborating, “I never want to make the same record twice. I want it to evolve into something. This is just a different side of who I am”.
Ah, the sophomore album. A feared feat for any artist, but perhaps even scarier when you’ve got Sturgill Simpson on the end of the phone asking you to stump up the tunes.
“I had been meeting with producers and figuring out where my next record would go”, explains Brit. “I didn’t feel like people got what I wanted to do. I texted Ferg [that’s David Ferguson, collaborator of Johnny Cash and John Prine, to me and you] saying ‘I want to make a record with you, can we go into the studio?’ He texted me back saying ‘why don’t me and Sturgill do it?’. He sent Sturgill the music and within eight minutes called me back and said ‘we got the studio for August, send 25 songs’”.
It might have been just eight minutes and *just* 25 songs, but Brit’s journey to Nashville took more time and tunes than that. She started as a young performer at the Kentucky Opry, where she grew from a shy child to a musician who knew how to connect with audiences. “It was always about the song I was singing and the reaction from the crowd. You can see when people are touched by a song, whether that makes them laugh or cry, happy or sad. If I hadn’t had that experience I would still be terrified to get on stage”.
Brit grew up near the Country Music Highway, the offshoots of which boasts the likes of Loretta Lynn, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Larry Cordle, Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers. “You can go into a church on a Sunday in Kentucky and just hear the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard. Everybody picks something. When I wanted to get a mandolin I just asked my mom to put it on Facebook, because everyone has a mandolin or a banjo lying around in Kentucky. Straight off I found one”.
The journey to Tennessee followed soon after, where Brit found her place: the Nashville songwriting room. “I moved to Nashville to be a songwriter first and foremost. I love it when you get in the room with the right person. When you’re in a room with someone you don’t have much chemistry with, it’s a miserable three hours. You’re waiting on a phone call so you can get out”.
Whilst Brit might have sewn her strings in the co-writing scene, there was some trepidation about whether this would fly with Sturgill, who is, it is fair to say, not a prolific lyrical collaborator. “I was like ‘oh man, is he going to want me to solo write the whole record, will he think I’m less of a songwriter because I co-write?’ All these fears and he never said one word about it: he loved the songs”.
In fact, some of Brit’s greatest influences didn’t do much songwriting at all. In case you didn’t know, Brit adores Patty Loveless. She mentions her no less than four times in our conversation. “Patty Loveless is why I wanted to move to Nashville. She’s one of the biggest influences on me as an artist”, she explains. Patty hadn’t written a lot of her own songs; she simply found the best songwriters, like Darrell Scott and Harlan Howard. Instead, it was Patty’s attitude to music that inspired Brit.
“She never seemed like she was chasing anything. She was setting a standard rather than trying to fit in. It seems like that was easier to do in the 90s. Patty sounded nothing like Shania Twain, Shania sounded nothing like Faith Hill. All these women but they didn’t make them sound all the same. They had a unique identity. I hope that comes back into country music, where we can have some sonic differences”.
Luckily, when you release a record on your own label, as Brit is doing through her Cut a Shine Records, you can sound as sonically unique as you want. Brit describes the record as “super country”, listing Loveless, Karen Carpenter, Glen Campbell and even disco as influences. From the album’s opening notes, on the down-home 'Cabin in the Woods', those Kentucky strings that Brit mentioned jump straight off of Facebook and don’t stop, moving feet and fingers along with them.
On songs like 'For A Night' - which we mutually agree sounds “groovy” - the disco influences come shimmying to the forefront. Kentucky Blue was cut in the three days before Brit left for New Mexico to get married, something else that might have had an influence on the records' uplifting sound, her happiness engrained on tracks like 'Anything Like You' and 'Ain’t a Hard Livin’'. She’s not gone completely soft on us though. “It’s definitely a more upbeat record but you still have those ballads on there. 'No Cowboys' and 'Love’s Never Been that Good to Me' are a reflection of the last record”.
Brit’s favourite song on the record (or, as we discuss, the song she’d play at the Opry that states definitively who she is), is 'Rich Little Girls', on which she sings ‘9 to 5, honey I wish, more like 24/7. The only days off I’m gonna get are when I get to heaven’. “It’s currently the life I’m living”, Brit explains. “I’m just working really hard and trying to figure it all out”.
It’s the same attitude she employed to set up Cut a Shine a few years ago, and that same tenacity that got her through a divorce, a band break-up and a publishing deal that fell through. “When I first started Cut a Shine I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard. I’ll just call and ask everybody ‘what did you do?’”
And what did Brit do? Well, true to form, she simply figured it out. “If you focus on a red mustang too much, you’re going to see them everywhere” she says. “It’s not because you’re seeing more than you saw before, it’s because it’s at the forefront of your mind. I just try to think about the good stuff as much as I can”.
Kentucky Blue is out on Friday 3rd February via Cut a Shine Records.